The owners of Tetrus Telecoms, Christopher Niebel and Gary McNeish, had been under investigation for 18 months – and had been warned they faced huge fines last month. Both recipients had 28 days to respond and prove that they were complying with the law.
They had been sending huge volumes – sometimes as many as 840,000 a day – of unsolicited text messages from offices in Stockport and Birmingham for years, without the consent of the recipient and without identifying the sender.
Any replies were then used to generate leads that were sold to other companies; Tetrus made between £7,000 and £8,000 a day, and the owners made hundreds of thousands of pounds in profits during the period.
Niebel has been ordered to pay a penalty of £300,000, while McNeish, who it is said took less out of the business, has been fined £140,000.
The fines are likely to be welcomed by the DMA, which has been urging the ICO to use its power to issue a monetary penalty for a serious breach of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR), since the powers were approved in January 2012.
Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said: “The public have told us that they are distressed and annoyed by the constant bombardment of illegal texts and calls and we are currently cracking down on the companies responsible, using the full force of the law.
“In March we set up a survey on the ICO website so people can tell us about any unwanted texts and calls they have been receiving. So far we have received over 60,000 responses.”
He added: “We know the majority of these messages and calls have been made by companies who try to remain anonymous in the hope they can profit by selling personal information to claims management companies and other marketing organisations. We are using the information provided by the public to identify those responsible.
“We will continue to work with the relevant authorities as well as the network providers to ensure companies like this are punished. We’re also working with the Ministry of Justice to target claims management companies who purchase this information breaching the industry regulations, the Data Protection Act, as well as electronic marketing regulations.”
He added: “Our message to the public is that if you don’t know who sent you a text message then do not respond, otherwise your details may be used to generate profits for these unscrupulous individuals. Together we can put an end to this unlawful industry that continues to plague our daily lives.”
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